The Rationality of Buzz

It’s early on a Monday morning – I would say “bright and early”, but it’s so early that the sun is still nowhere in sight. At any rate, the week is about to begin and so I figure it’s a good time to think about the barrage of buzz that is about to stream into mailboxes, land on doorsteps, and influence consumers via video screens across town, throughout the nation and all over the world-wide web.

One thing particularly nice about Sundays is the peace and quiet that settles in once last week’s buzz has piddled down to only a slight murmur echoing through the last few talk shows with nothing better to do than to rehash old buzz. By Sunday afternoons, the world has pretty much come to a stop and there is so little or even no new news whatsoever. Humanity has essentially stopped producing facts and by Sunday evenings one can observe that even though humans have not yet completely died out, there is practically nothing noteworthy to say anymore. Sunday evenings are really only surpassed by late August insofar as the dearth of buzz goes.

But never fear: Monday morning is near! The well-oiled fact-producing machinery is ready to run with incoming factoids and produce a plethora of buzzworthy content for hungry consumers ready to devour tidbits and lengthy articles, stories, analyses and whatnot alike. Empty minds need to be filled with buzz.


Well, the best answer is probably: It’s complicated.

You need to realize that the vast majority of what minds in the developed world consume is buzz. Mass production of buzz has been the daily (or nearly daily) media diet of developed consumers for well over a century already. Today, facts are churned out at breathtaking speed – far faster than eyes or ears alone can consume them. Luckily, smartphones have been developed which can also consume vast amounts of data lickity-split, and so the plethora of data can find homes in these handheld robotic assistants for their masters to feel superior over more and more bits of information, whether they are actually able to derive any meaning from them or not.

Most buzz is not intended to improve your understanding of anything. Do any Google search at all, and you will probably find that the top 10 results are all more or less equally meaningless. Of course you could ask the Google Guys what “2+2” is, and then they might tell you it’s “4” – but that would, I guess, be more the exception than the rule. The vast majority of results to the overwhelming majority of searches will probably give you a sense that the world is immensely complex and that there is little or no hope to finding a simple and direct answer to the very particular question you might have at any moment. In exasperation, the searcher clicks on something, and the goal is for the lost user to click on something that might earn Google a dime – or even better: a buck.

One needs to remember, though, that Google is only one of the latest entrants in the race for facts. News publishers have, as I alluded to above, been producing this crap for over a century already. Why are we still racing so feverishly for facts? Well, because last week’s facts are now no longer relevant as they were last week. Apart from dull truths, most facts are only really useful for short spans of time – somewhere from a few milliseconds to maybe half a minute. After that, everything needs to be recalculated – and that is why people continue asking Google all sorts of questions. The funny thing is: because Google is able to make money regardless of where people click on their ads – in other words, ads delivered to almost any webpage, the Google brand is not really damaged when the naive novice user clicks on an ad for a get-rich-quick scheme on some other website. If the naive novice newbie gets upset that their computer has now apparently made a mistake, then they will probably blame the mistake on “that darn website” rather than on Google. The Google Guys can write home: “Look ma, no risk!” 😀 The fact that Google recommended the website is probably long forgotten, and the fact that Google earned a buck or maybe even more from the click never enters the mind of the ordinary naive novice newbie – and if it ever did (as by reading this sentence), then it will probably be dismissed as far-fetched, out of the ordinary, and perhaps even merely a conspiracy theory. 😐

How did it ever come to this?

Again: It’s complicated.

Even though news publishing has only really exploited this “propaganda” technique for about one century, the history of the basic foundation dates back several centuries – all the way to the invention of the “movable type” printing press over five centuries ago. Movable type made it possible to make different sentences rather easily – and therefore it became much easier to revise old truths and also to formulate new truths (such as that the Earth is not at the center of the universe).

Yet for several centuries, the main problem was not so much a dearth of publishing facts as a lack of literacy to consume them. From 1450 to at least 1750 – that’s three centuries – the rate of (reading) literacy was quite close to zero. Even by 1850, the literacy needle had hardly moved at all. It is quite probable that this was due to the still quite high costs associated with literature. In the latter half of the 19th Century, two advances in publishing technology made literature far more affordable to acquire: wood-based paper and offset printing, By the end of the 19th Century, the rates of literacy in many industrialized countries had begun to increase significantly.

Yet it would be a great distortion of the historical record to maintain that reading and writing were in any way equal. Throughout the 20th Century, only very few writers wrote for increasing numbers of readers… and at the beginning of the 20th Century, the “publishing industry” as it was known throughout the century was formed with a view to feeding the masses of followers published facts.

It was not until the advent of the Internet, that questioning the publishing of facts by the few for the many was even a possibility in any meaningful way. Even though some schools did teach more and more pupils more and more writing skills, there was simply no technical capability to publish literature in any significant way. What is more: copyright law further cemented the publishing industry into a cornerstone position with respect to the supply of published facts.

Nonetheless, it would also be a grave distortion of the historical record to maintain that nothing of any significance changed in the 20th Century. In contrast: The publishing industry made very significant advances in the science of propaganda. Most of these have to do with increased understanding of the psychology of consumers, and perhaps the most significant insight is the very well known insight gained from Pavlov’s dog – namely that you can “train” animals (and people) to believe something by conditioning their belief system. Just as Pavlov was able to train his dog to salivate when he rang a bell, so today you can train people to think facts are true by associating them with other facts (such as today’s date, the author’s name, a specific location where an article was written, etc.). Beyond that, it is also possible to habitualize head-nodding behavior by increasing the number of facts, however inconsequential – for example, by listing the estimated temperatures in various locations across the country.

The more often you ring the truth bell, the more likely the consumer is to click when they see an advertisement.

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In a recent podcast episode, Eliza Rubin mentioned „voluntourism“ (see episode #28 for her explanation of the term). Here, I want to apply the concept to the web / internet / online space – so basically: virtual voluntourism.

In my opinion, this is what happens when someone asks people to visit a particular web address to perform some kind of supposedly good deed. For example: „Visit itunes and rate this podcast“ or „Visit facebook and like our page“, or maybe „post a comment“, „send us an email“ or „follow me“ or whatever.

I don’t need to visit google or gmail or whatever someone wants me to visit. If you like google or some other website, then that is perfectly fine with me – but don’t ask me to care about sites you seem to be fans of. You can be a fan of whatever site all you want, but don’t ask me to share your point of view. Anyway: If I were to do so because you asked me to, it would be meaningless.

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Global Languages (and/or Classification Schemes) + Generic Top Level Domains (TLDs)

Whereas traditional classification schemes (such as the Dewey Decimal Classification [DDC] or the Library of Congress classification scheme [LC]) have primarily been oriented towards topical segmentation of publications published by individual persons or corporate entities, I feel it is now a pretty safe bet that the landscape of generic top-level domains is instead oriented towards segmenting information based on a palette of various communication types, in other words segments of interactions or engagement types used in the broader field of general communications. One might think of this as on par with the „speech act“ theories developed in the latter half of the 20th Century, though using the world-wide web the focus is not interpersonal communication, but rather open and public communications.

Several years ago, I posted a „guesstimate“ of what com, net and org represent. Now I want to attempt to expand this to more / all generic domains. This is what I have so far:

  • com = commerce + commercials (ads + advertising)
  • net = networking
  • org = organizations (i.e. corporate entities – originally primarily „non-profit“)
  • info = reference, lookup services (e.g. publications created on behalf of communities or community services)
  • biz = small business
  • name = naming + classification (originally primarily personal brands)
  • tel = contact / directory
  • pro = paid / professional services

Note the omission of „gov“ and „edu“ (and „travel“, „museum“, etc.) – this is not an oversight; I consider these „proprietary“ top level domains. Going forward, the vast majority of top-level domains will probably be proprietary. The number of generic top level domains may even be fixed from this point onwards, as this type of registry (i.e. „generic“ registries) is (are) apparently no longer being planned.

However, the above list may in fact not be exhaustive. Likewise, the descriptions are highly speculative and should probably be considered more as „suggested“ rather than as descriptive or prescriptive.

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Auctions + Markets for Domains, Domain Names + TLDs

Several years ago, one of my friends (who is not a „domainer“ per se) made a very insightful remark… – a remark that I have carried around with me ever since and also pondered over all this time (and indeed, I continue to do so).

He noted that domain names are not interchangable the way uniform products are – you can’t replace one domain name with another one the way you can exchange one pair of jeans with another pair of jeans, one rubber duckie with another rubber duckie, one toaster with another toaster or one widget with another widget. Therefore, unlike the market prices we are all familiar with for one ounce of gold or one barrel of oil, domain names belong to an entirely different category of things. The are unique, much in the same way that a painting by Van Gogh or Rembrandt are unique. Just as it doesn’t make sense to switch out a painting made by Picasso with a crayon drawing made by the kid around the corner, you cannot simply exchange or replace with (or even with, or with

This became vividly clear to me earlier today as I was writing a response to a question raised by Michael Berkens (see „Quick Poll How Much Will .Web Sell For In The ICANN Auction On July 27th ?“). There, the discussion had become focused on whether the new TLD „web“ is comparable to the generic TLD „net“. Michael did a „back of the envelope“ calculation to arrive at $500 million as the value of the „net“ registry. I agree with the logic of his argument, but the point I wish to make here is more related to something he included in his remark apparently by chance / in passing.

He noted that the generic „net“ TLD does not offer so-called „premium“ domain names – in other words: that there is no price discrimination (i.e., that all domains are available at the same low price in a „one-size fits-all“ fashion). This is not a magnificent discovery, but I do feel it is something very noteworthy nonetheless. This is the way all generic TLD registries price domains, but it is a very rare (or even non-existent) pricing mechanism among the registry operators of the newer proprietary TLDs. Since the proprietors have such an strong inclination to engage in price discrimination, this might (or could) even be the defining characteristic of the difference between generic TLDs and proprietary TLDs: If there is no price discrimination, then the TLD can be called „generic“; If there is price discrimination, then the TLD should be called „proprietary“.

Although the motivation to identify a TLD as proprietary originally stems from the sole proprietor’s own engagement in the associated market (consider, e.g., Amazon, Inc.’s engagement in the „book“ market, or Google Inc.’s engagement in the „app“ market, or even Johnson & Johnson Inc.’s engagement in the „baby“ market), I feel this is an „easy to use“ metric that seems (to me) to be both valid and reliable in order to distinguish these two very significantly different types of TLD.

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Anti-Dis-Establishment-Arian-Ism + AntiDisInterMediaTion

In this post, I plan to give you a small insight into some of the marketing / branding ideas I developed for this blog. One of the BIG IDEA moments behind „remediary“ is simply that antidisintermediation is nothing other than remediation (and as that is in a rather oblique way the goal / rationailty behind the my argumentation for rational media in the sense of algorithmic, functional, operational,… – new media, media that „works“, etc.) for business goals without needing a lot of busy bodies to do it, without even needing any algorithms, software programs and such – using nothing more than the technology of natural language (a sort of gift from nature / God / the Gods / evolution / whatever).

In my original thinking behind what I used to refer to as „the Wisdom of the Language“ (which, now that I think about it, I may one of these days resurrect under the heading of „rational media“), my thinking about intermediation (and similar intermediary roles) was focused primarily on bringing together business people in a spirit of collaboration. I continue to feel my thinking behind this was valid – but I naively and mistakenly overlooked the simple fact that the vast majority of business people are by and large illiterate (remember that my notion of literacy includes what many people refer to as „media literacy“, „online literacy“, „digital literacy“, etc.).

The „Wisdom of the Language“ ideas are now more than 10 years old. Yet they still remain inaccessible to illiterate people – indeed, to the vast majority of the population. In the intervening decade I have been quite frustrated to come to this realization. Now, reflecting on the past decade, I also realize that I have made many connections to very literate people. Perhaps, I think, maybe I should try to develop these relationships more. Perhaps the people „in the media“ do have a meaningful role to play after all. Perhaps the ability to create and formulate expressions representing ideas is not a gift given from the heavens after all. Perhaps we need a special class of literate people to interpret and translate ideas that ordinary business people may have, but seem to remain unable to express, to communicate, to understand or convey.

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